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Letters from Africa
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, translation by Benjamin Sutherland


Dear Parents,                   [Liverpool, May 6 or 7, 1916]

     After difficulties of all sorts, I have finally made it to Liverpool, but my boat leaves in three days which is what has forced me to hit you up but the company will pay you back before long.
     I'm still under pressure and will send details shortly.
Affectionately, Louis



My Dear Simone,                  Liverpool, Sunday Evening [May 7, 1916]

     Being forced to spend a Sunday in London is already enough of a disaster, but it quickly takes on the characteristics of a catastrophe when circumstances compel you to spend it in Liverpool.
     You could never imagine a place as repugnant, as filthy, and as religious.
     Nonetheless, around 6 o'clock in the evening, possibly for the joy of seeing this bothersome day come to a close, the different Protestant sects come out from their retreats, banners flying, and circulate in all directions throughout the city to the sounds of hymns that, under the circumstances, take on a vague feeling of military marches. They then finally settle in different squares and continue more ardently than ever to thank the Lord for having f****d us all.
     I've long been indifferent to this type of demonstration, but these in Liverpool are quite peculiar, due to the incalculable number of dockers that make up the old stock of the population, and who wait for the bars to open at 8:30, and come around to work up a thirst and "throw one back" to the sounds of the sacred music.
     True professionals, they spread out among the believers, contributing considerably to the resonance if not to the piety-I saw one before me who eagerly struck up a hymn to the Virgin in which the exceptional physical and moral virtues of this latter were repeatedly praised, and in which the adjective "beautiful" kept coming up, which offered the docker the chance to stress the word as he contemplated a woman close by, who herself seemed quite content to appropriate the tributes originally destined to the mother of God-which, as you can see, constitutes a distressing double usage.
     Yours sincerely,

     Des Touches



[Telegram to parents][Liverpool, Wednesday May 10, 1916]

     Sayled today: Destouches



Dear Dad,                  Sierra-Leone [Freetown, May 25, 1916]

     For the last three days I've been taken by a violent fever-Empty my savings account send me 1000 francs. I'll work doing anything in Paris-to pay you back-but I can't stay here-I'm still in Duala. Write me here.
     Affectionately, Louis

C.F.S.O. Duala-



[Postcard to his father][Freetown, May 27, 1916]

     Say nothing to Mother. Will send another card home.
     Such a violent fever-Send Duala Money to my account Banque Afrique ÷quatoriale. Won't touch it if I can hold out. Forgive me not my fault. Two dead on board.



[Postcard to his father][Freetown, May 27, 1916]

    Tremendous heat.




[Postcard to his father][Freetown, May 27, 1916]

     -are very hot
     Very bad crossing
     With love




[Postcard to his father][Freetown, May 27, 1916]

     In quarantine.

     L Des Touches.



[Postcard to Simone Saintu][Freetown]

     We're in quarantine
     Best wishes,




My Dear Milon-                  S.S. Accra-Lagos, June 2, 1916

     The experience is conclusive-There is absolutely no future here, and not for a lack of commercial opportunity but as a result of climacteric conditions which are purely and simply abominable-The Europeans here look consumed by all sorts of ailments, due in part to excesses but also to sanitary conditions. All healthy living is impossible and it is only at the cost of one's health that one manages to do anything here-I myself suffered an attack of fever in Sierra-Leone and won't last long in Africa. We will leave for Duala tomorrow ... I'll stay there a month or two to repair the onerous aspects of this little experience as much as possible--Stop by at my place and let me know how things are. If you see some sort of possibility in Paris don't forget about me--
     The region is excessively rich, and indisputably open to a great future-seriously. It's hopeless for whoever wishes to hang on to tolerable health.
     Nothing is sadder than the yellow faces of the local colonists. Listless, looking consumed by every imaginable fever-sad wrecks--from which life is being slowly sucked away, as if absorbed by a sun that drowns everything and infallibly kills whatever resists.
     Write me quickly not at my place but at the address below.

     Louis des Touches
     Elder Dempster Agency
     Duala (Cameroon)



[Postcard to his father][Lagos, June 5, 1916]

     Leaving for Duala, feeling better-but very hot




[Postcard to Simone Saintu][Lagos, June 5, 1916]

     Not beautiful. Sad.


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